Struggling to have a baby? You’re not alone. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite trying for at least a year, and is a condition that affects approximately 1 out of every 6 couples.
It can be depressing to be diagnosed with infertility. But there is always hope. Now is the time to enrich your knowledge on fertility health.
What is needed for pregnancy to occur?
The following is needed:
- Healthy sperms produced by the man
- The production of healthy eggs by the woman (ovulation)
- Healthy fallopian tubes to allow the sperm to reach the egg
- Sperm to fertilize the egg when they meet
- The fertilized egg (embryo) is implanted in the woman’s uterus
Infertility can result if one of these steps is flawed.
Myth or fact: are women the main cause of infertility?
It is a common belief that infertility is mainly related to the woman. The reality is:
- Only one-third of infertility cases are related to the woman alone (female infertility).
- One-third of infertility problems are related to men (male infertility).
- The remaining one-third is a combination of fertility issues involving both partners (combined infertility) or unexplained infertility.
Fortunately, there are a variety of safe and effective therapies that significantly improve your chances of getting pregnant.
What are the causes of female infertility?
Age can contribute to infertility because a woman’s fertility tends to decrease as she ages. The following are the most common causes of female infertility.
- Ovulation problems: which affect the release of eggs from the ovaries. These include hormonal imbalance, thyroid gland problems, stress, eating disorders, intense exercise that causes a significant loss of body fat, a tumor or cyst and extremely brief menstrual cycles.
- Early menopause: when menstruation ends before the age of 40, this is associated with certain conditions such as immune system diseases, genetic conditions, smoking, radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
- Delayed puberty or absence of menstruation (amenorrhea): which is associated with certain medical conditions such as celiac disease, poorly controlled diabetes and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
- Disorders of the Uterus or Cervix: which include abnormalities in the shape of the uterus, the opening of the cervix, polyps in the uterus, benign tumors in the uterine wall (fibroids) and endometriosis which occurs when endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus. Abnormal cervical mucus can also prevent the sperm from reaching or penetrating the egg.
- Damage or blockage of the Fallopian tube: due to inflammation of the fallopian tube which can result from pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Cancer of the female reproductive system and its therapy: can severely impair female fertility.
What are the causes of male infertility?
Low sperm count (less than 20 million sperms per ml) is the most common cause of male infertility. Other causes include:
- Certain medical conditions such as undescended testicles, diabetes or infections including chlamydia, gonorrhea, mumps or HIV, genetic disorders and enlarged veins in the testes (varicocele) can cause abnormal sperm production or function.
- Problems with sperm delivery due to sexual problems, such as premature ejaculation, structural problems such as a blockage in the testicle, damage or injury to the reproductive organs, and certain genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
- Certain medications such as certain antibiotics, antihypertensives, anabolic steroids.
- Smoking, alcohol, or drug taking.
- Overexposure to heat and certain environmental factors such as pesticides, other chemicals, and radiation may affect sperm production.
- Cancer and its therapy can impair sperm production.
Can infertility be prevented?
Some types of infertility can’t be prevented. But the following may increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Have regular and frequent intercourse at least 5 days before and until a day after ovulation for the best chances of getting pregnant. Ovulation usually occurs at the middle of the cycle (halfway between menstrual periods).
Changes in lifestyle can increase the chances of getting pregnant:
- Stop smoking. Smoking impairs fertility, your general health, and the health of the baby.
- Limit caffeine.
- Exercise moderately. Exercising so intensely that your periods are infrequent or absent can affect fertility.
- Avoid weight extremes. Being overweight or underweight affects hormone production and may cause infertility.
Although most types of infertility aren’t preventable, avoiding the following may help:
- Smoking and alcohol.
- Hot tubs and steam baths. High temperatures temporarily affect sperm production and motility.
- Limit medications that may impact fertility. Talk with your doctor about any medications you take regularly.
- Exercise moderately. Regular exercise may improve sperm quality and increase the chances for achieving a pregnancy.
What are the treatments of infertility?
Surgical repair of reproductive organs or drug therapy treats approximately 85-90% of infertility cases.
The remaining treatment options include In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), a procedure in which after ovarian stimulation, the mature eggs are collected from the ovaries and fertilized by the sperm in a Petri dish. The fertilized eggs (embryos) are then implanted in the women’s uterus. One cycle of IVF takes about 2 weeks.